Saturday 06 February 1993
A L Kennedy's strengths are those of a reporter or a diarist, rather than a novelist. In her presumably autobiographical tale of a Scottish girl - a lonely childhood, an undirected adulthood centred on a community centre, a kind of relationship with a nice woolly chap - the moments to treasure are not those where Margaret muses on the state of the nation or people's abilities to love one another. But her minutely precise depictions of urban violence sometimes spring into surreal life. A thief walks through a plate-glass window and 'The crash was almost liquid, huge. . .'; a man is beaten up while Mozart is playing, and there are 'fat notes cool within his head.'
SUCKERS by Anne Billson, Pan, pounds 4.99
Anne Billson's novel about the underside of urban life is a brash and upbeat look at Britain in the Eighties. Dora, a creative consultant who moves in a depressing milieu of photographers, models and image-makers, is amazed to find that some of them aren't just metaphorical bloodsuckers. Here are real vampires in lizard-skin shoes and leather gloves, hanging out in plush bars and matte black offices and finally getting their violent comeuppances with garlic, stakes and diamante crucifixes. Billson only works the plot for its cartoonish potential - a vampire drowns in a bath and she notes: 'The water was thick and stagnant, and there was a lot of red froth on the surface. She was under it with her hair floating like seaweed and the chair-leg sticking out of what looked like a gallon of blackcurrant jelly spread all over the middle of her chest.' It's a long way from the chilly elegance of Bram Stoker's Dracula to this gory mayhem.
THE BATTLE OF POLTAVA by Peter Englund, Gollancz, pounds 20
This is rather more than the description of a battle, and it is pretty much a cult book in Sweden, where Poltava is a legendary name. When Charles XII, tired of fending off the encroaching Russian armies, decided to march on Moscow, he was met by Peter the Great's forces at Poltava, in the Ukraine. What followed is described in remarkable and bracing detail by Englund, who also brings a cool and scathing touch to his discussion of the stragglers: the wagons full of wounded, the fleeing children. The moment when the battle is lost - 'All our foot are defeated' - is both poignant and a heck a relief.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food